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Charlotte Amalie
Friday, June 21, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesMan Convicted in Cockayne Case Granted New Trial

Man Convicted in Cockayne Case Granted New Trial

One defense attorney’s efforts to keep his client from spending the rest of his life behind bars have paid off — at least for now.
Jahlil Ward was convicted last October of stabbing to death James "Jamie" Cockayne in the early morning hours of June 19, 2007. Ward’s attorney, Michael Quinn, recently filed a motion for acquittal of first-degree murder — which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole — in an effort to get Ward a new trial. On Monday, V.I. Superior Court Judge Brenda J. Hollar ruled in Quinn’s favor, saying that the government had failed to turn over evidence that was "material" to the case.
The evidence is a statement made by Kamal Thomas, Ward’s co-defendant, who has been sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison for assaulting Cockayne before he was murdered. Thomas allegedly admitted to another individual that he killed Cockayne. Quinn said Monday the evidence could have exonerated his client.
While government attorney Rene Gumbs Carty argued that Quinn had a standing invitation to look at Thomas’ file, Hollar said the government had "clutched the statement close to their chests." A memorandum opinion on the motions will be filed during the week, she added.
But that wasn’t the only issue raised Monday. Hollar started out the hearing by trying to figure out why Ward — who she had sentenced in August 2006 to 15 months in prison for an unrelated crime — was out of jail at the time of Cockayne’s murder.
"I’ve tried to calculate this every which way," she said. "There’s no way he could have been out at that time."
Hollar also questioned why Ward, who was put in witness protection and sent to the states after he received death threats for his involvement in another case, was flown back to the territory on a first-class ticket when he was being looked at by the police as a suspect in Cockayne’s murder. The sequence of events, she said, just doesn’t fit.
"My problem is, the day of the murder, your office subpoenaed him, so your office knew he was out," Hollar said to government attorney Rene Gumbs-Carty. "I don’t know why you were looking for him at his house when you should have been looking for him at the Bureau of Corrections."
Testimony provided by a Bureau of Corrections records clerk — who said on the stand that she has been working on a temporary basis since 2006 — revealed that Ward’s sentencing term had been recorded as 13 months, and that he had been released on June 2, 2007.
But no one called to the stand Monday could explain why. Gumbs-Carty said at least one of the employees she had tried to get in contact with had retired from the bureau.
"That doesn’t help me," Hollar responded. "Evidently, they’re having some classification clerk determining who gets out when without telling them anything … and if that’s what they’re doing, what are you doing about it? It’s ridiculous."
Further testimony from William Curtis, head of the Justice Department’s Special Investigations Division, revealed that the government had flown Ward back around the same time the police considering him as a suspect in the Cockayne murder case. Curtis said that Ward had contacted him, saying that he was having financial problems, and asking if arrangements could be made to fly him home.
When asked by Quinn why Ward wasn’t told he was being looked at as a murder suspect, Curtis said he thought Ward might flee if he knew. The attorney general signed off on the payment for the airplane ticket, and Ward was brought home, he said.
"So that’s why you gave him a first-class ticket — to sweeten the pot," Hollar said.
Several matters involving Ward were ongoing at the same time, and were being worked on by different entities, Gumbs-Carty said.
"We were focusing on the previous case," she explained. "That doesn’t mean we knew everything that was happening at the Major Crimes Unit."
While Ward was brought in to testify on the other matter, there was still not enough evidence to arrest him for Cockayne’s murder, Gumbs-Carty said.
"Even if the world suspected him, and he had been sent off to the witness-protection program, we had no probable cause at that time to come to court with," she said.
Ward wasn’t arrested until July 2008, Hollar pointed out. Hollar said later that the government, which had originally pointed to Thomas and Boston as the killers, had been swayed by arguments made against Ward by Thomas’ attorney, Michael Joseph, who pointed to Ward as the killer.
No new trial date was set on Monday.

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